JSR conference: What is normal pig behaviour?

Science will be key to overcoming challenges in the future, according to JSR’s Grant Walling speaking at the 20th annual JSR Conference, Sutton Bonnington, Nottingham.

He said using evidence-based science would be crucial in influencing public opinion, particularly with challenging trading conditions spurring many businesses down the niche product route in an attempt to capture an additional premium.

High-welfare systems such as free-range units where animals can express “normal behaviour” is a niche area people buy in to, but “what is normal behaviour?”, Dr Walling asked.

“A lot of welfare judgements are subjective and typically associated with ‘freedom to express normal behaviour’ and we know what this is for a wild pig, but there is no definition of ‘normal behaviour’ for a domestic species.”

Determining normal behaviour is a difficult decision to make. “It could be said the 7.3m dogs owners in the UK fail to provide at least one of the basic freedoms, because dogs are restricted from hunting for food in packs. So coming up with quantitative measure of welfare is important,” he said.

Dr Walling proposed welfare should be assessed by quantitative measures such as blood cortisol levels, white blood cell levels, muscle pH, or measures of fertility and productive output.

“We have done trials on the levels of stress pre-slaughter and found if there are high levels of pale soft and exudative meat this is indicative of short-term stress prior to slaughter. Dark firm and dry meat is more indicative of longer term stress, injury and disease.

“Both of these measures could be a useful way of measuring stress, both long and short-term,” he said.